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Report on Faith Stories 2017 - A focus on abrahamic Faiths
Faith Stories - A focus on Abrahamic Faiths, August 2017
We were blessed to have Aunty Janet Turpie-Johnstone, a Mullum Mullum Elder and WFWP member, present her Welcome to Country for us. Janet also presented the Aboriginal people’s story, outlining the history of Aboriginal communities in early Melbourne.
Janet is a lecturer in Aboriginal Art and Culture at the Faculty of Education at ACU, and is currently also a HDR student at ANU, where she is completing her PhD titled Bunjil Patterns: The Mess of the Past and Future in the Present.
Janet presented her research based on human relationship with land and waters and briefly analysed the colonial impact on the colony of Port Phillip Bay (now Melbourne). During her presentation, Janet emphasised how we can learn from our ancient Aboriginal ways of life, which are highly philosophical and religious and are based on a relationship to land and all that is on the land. Janet strongly feels that people need to become more sensitive and humble in the way they relate to the land and all the natural resources.
Khatija Halabi is the founder and Vice-president of UMSLV and a WFWP member. Khatija was both humble and proud that interfaith dialogue was not a new concept in her family. Her great grandfather and Mahatma Gandhi had an interfaith conversation in Durban, a city they both lived in, in South Africa.
Khatija spoke about how growing up in South Africa during the transitional period between apartheid and a new democracy shaped her identity. She grew up in a community that allowed her to develop a strong Muslim identity. The community leaders supported families through the difficult times of lack of opportunity due to their beliefs and philosophies based on Islamic teachings. Those community members who felt strongly about social injustice helped the country get over the ills of apartheid by joining the struggle for liberation. With Khatija’s exposure to people of different races and different religions, her identity grew stronger as she developed the ability to treat everyone that she came into contact with as members of the human race (not an ethnic one)! She is grateful that her children, and the born free generation of South Africa, are now a part of a global community.
Frances Prince is a member of the JCCV (Jewish Community Council of Victoria) Executive, holding the Multicultural and Interfaith Portfolio. She is a Board member of the JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia) and of the FCCV (Faith Communities Council of Victoria.) Due to our Faith Stories being held on a Saturday, Frances provided her presentation via video. She explained what it meant to be a Jewish person in relation to religion and ethnicity. According to Jewish traditions, if you are born of a Jewish mother you are Jewish. Thus religious and ethnic identities overlap, because a person can become a Jew through conversion or can be considered a Jew even if they do not adhere to Jewish beliefs, but are cultural adherents.
Frances openly shared her experiences as a woman in her faith and described the traditional role of women as standing in parallel position to men. Most of Jewish life and Jewish traditions take place in the home which is under the domain of women. However, the public eye sees the men in the synagogue. The laws were set up to protect women in the home life, so that women did not need to attend the synagogue, because traditionally women did stay at home rather than working outside the home. Today, women work and so the traditional roles have changed. Modern Jewish women in the orthodox world now push boundaries. Today in progressive communities, women have more choices to engage and participate in the synagogue.
Rev. Ruth Harrison was ordained an Anglican deacon in 1990 and a priest in 1992. She was among the first women in Melbourne to be ordained to the priesthood. Ruth shared the story of how she was drawn to contemplative prayer at an early age, and then was called by God to the ordained ministry in the Anglican Church, before the Church was prepared to ordain women. Ruth emphasised that this journey towards ordination should be viewed as a struggle for the right to obey the call of God, rather than fighting for women’s rights, per se.
In her conclusion Ruth reflected that what emerged most clearly from her experience of sharing her story was that she was able to observe how those of other faiths - and in particular, the Muslim faith, could understand the reality of her faith story, just as she could connect with the reality of others who shared their faith story. She was able to experience a meeting of the spirit in each other, something she will always treasure.